Ukraine's Tymoshenko "criminally' exceeded powers: judge

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Ukraine's former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko clearly exceeded her authority in signing a gas deal with Russia in 2009 and used her powers to "criminal ends", the judge in her trial said in the verdict Tuesday.

"Y.V. Tymoshenko... used her official powers to criminal ends and, acting consciously, committed actions which clearly exceeded her rights and powers which had heavy consequences," said judge Rodion Kireyev.

Kireyev has yet to announce his final judgement in the case or give any details what sentence the former Orange Revolution leader could face if found guilty.

But his initial summary was a clear blow for Tymoshenko who appeared distressed in the packed court, flanked by her husband Olexander and daughter Yevgenia. Prosecutors have demanded a jail sentence of seven years.

Kireyev said Tymoshenko sustained a loss to state gas firm Naftogaz of 1.5 billion hryvnia ($190 million) by agreeing a 10 year contract on gas imports from Russia in 2009 when she was prime minister.

Despite being held under arrest since August, Tymoshenko as ever showed up in court with her hair plaited intricately around her head and wearing an immaculate beige dress. She shouted "Glory to Ukraine!" after being led in.

Her supporters have portrayed the trial as a struggle for the future of Ukraine and a historic fight to ensure it has a future at the heart of Europe.

Tymoshenko has always insisted that her trial is a vendetta pursued by President Viktor Yanukovych to eliminate her from politics after their tight tussle in 2010 presidential elections.

"The court's judgement is being made by President Yanukovych. Whatever the decision of the court it will not change anything in my struggle for Ukraine's European future," she told reporters before the verdict.

Hundreds of supporters of Tymoshenko were gathered Tuesday outside the court in central Kiev in a tense standoff with security forces ahead of the verdict.

Similar numbers of elite Berkut anti-riot police kept watch over the protestors and there were minor scuffles although no major clashes, an AFP correspondent reported from the scene.

"Freedom for Yulia!" and "Down with the bandits!" were among the slogans shouted by the demonstrators who also put up tents outside the court in a sign they had no intention of moving away in a hurry.

A conviction would severely jeopardise Ukraine's hopes of signing an association agreement with the European Union this year which would be a first step towards its goal of joining the bloc.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton warned earlier this week that the process could affect the integration of Ukraine, saying that "we're not optimistic about this trial".

Tymoshenko arrested in August for contempt of court after she incessantly mocked the boyish Kireyev on Twitter messages sent from her iPad in the courthouse and has been in custody ever since.

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